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Ken Borland

Conrad not the manufacturer of a dramatic new way, but has made brave calls

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Ken

New Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad has made some brave calls for his first series in charge, against the West Indies.

New Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad is not aiming to be the manufacturer of some dramatic new way of playing five-day cricket, but he has nevertheless made some brave calls as South Africa head into a new era in what most players still consider the pinnacle of the game as they take on the West Indies in the first of a two-match series in Centurion from Tuesday.

Conrad has not only installed a new Test captain in Temba Bavuma, whose predecessor Dean Elgar remains in the team but needs to regain his ability to make tough runs, but also cut a trio of players who would probably have expected to still be involved.

Dropping two of the three leading run-scorers in the series in Australia over the festive season is certainly a tough call if you are Kyle Verreynne, who scored two half-centuries in the three Tests, or Sarel Erwee, whose last Test innings was the dogged 42 not out he scored to help South Africa save the third Test in Sydney.

Lungi Ngidi has also been a regular in the Test team, playing 11 of the 18 Tests in the last two years. He has taken 33 wickets in that time, at an excellent average of just 21.63. Ngidi has also conceded only 3.06 runs-per-over in that time, all of which suggests he plays an important role in the Proteas attack, but Conrad has seemingly gone the bold route of wanting the express pace of uncapped Gerald Coetzee instead.

Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram are the batsmen to benefit from the axing of Verreynne and Erwee. There is no doubting that both are amongst the most talented strokeplayers in the country, but Klaasen has scored just 48 runs in four Test innings, and Markram makes yet another return based on just how damn good he looks whenever he picks up a bat, except when it comes to actually scoring runs at Test level.

Typically of Conrad, who is never afraid to back his big calls, he has already stated that Markram will return to opening the batting alongside Elgar. The new coach is not reinventing how the Proteas play Test cricket, but he is certainly aiming for a more aggressive, positive approach.

Conrad was walking around the SuperSport Park field on Monday morning during the Proteas’ final preparations like a sergeant major, but he is not all bark and bite; he found time to give the no-doubt hurting Elgar an arm around the shoulder and a rub of the neck.

If the 55-year-old Conrad is the equivalent of the Proteas’ chairman of the board, then Bavuma is the new CEO tasked with getting the best out of the staff.

Bavuma is no stranger to international captaincy, of course, having led the Proteas in 17 ODIs and 25 T20s. He is highly-respected by his team-mates for his tactical acumen, technical ability and tenacity.

Bavuma has been no stranger to tough times recently, and he was stressing the need for his team to embrace a fresh start against the West Indies.

“These are exciting times, it’s the start of a new journey and I would like us to start with a clean slate and play the way we want to play,” Bavuma said at Centurion on Monday.

“We have got enough resources in the 15-man squad to adapt to conditions and back up whatever tactics we want to employ. And there are other leaders within the team, guys who have been around for a while, who I can definitely lean on. We just need to ensure we are all speaking the same language.

“The brand of cricket we play is how we want to measure ourselves, but we still need to man up. We know as a batting unit that we need to score the runs, we need to go out and do what we need to do.

“A lot of these guys have won a series against India not long ago when no-one really backed us to do that. I always preach playing together as a team and we don’t want to lose that,” Bavuma said.

Fresh starts almost always involve a positive approach to things, and it seems the Proteas are as concerned with how they go about playing as what they produce. Conrad will have to live or die by his brave choices, and perhaps he will discover that sometimes producing the goods is all that matters, no matter how you look doing it.

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